Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

More Stupid Searches


I have said many times in this blog that search engines don’t search. What they do is browse to keep you occupied while they shovel ads in your face. Search engines are not about quickly finding. They are about slowly selling.

I have not said anything about the other searches we do on the Internet: searches on those business sites we visit to shop, even buy. But if we don’t know the exact name of the desired object, don’t know their terminology, we have a helluva time finding it.

I could give specific examples (recently, I tried to locate an affordable portable air conditioner at Amazon), but I want to address the much larger generic problem. Why are site searches so lousy when it serves neither customer nor business?

At Amazon, the problem may be the rapid expansion of their database. Maybe so, but all the more reason they need a better system for searching. And here’s the root of my puzzlement: better search systems have been around for fifty years!

No, really. The basics of how to search efficiently were solved back in the day when processors were molasses slow and memory ludicrously expensive. In fact, those limitations were the reason search had to be made efficient. Are fast computers and cheap memories making us inefficient?

Let’s face it. With all this speed and power, programmers no longer bother doing things efficiently. They believe the solution is more hardware power. Yeah, well it won’t solve stupidity. We have all this increased power yet know less than our predecessors.

Whatever the causes, it needs to be fixed. There are books (and people) out there with answers if anyone’s willing to look. Until someone does, you and I will continue to waste much of our time doing searches that end in frustration.

However, what baffles me—deeply—is why businesses allow this inefficiency. Do they think we’re going to buy something we didn’t want? Are they trying to drive us back to driving to the brick and mortar stores? (Did last week for a special cable.) Honestly, I don’t get it.

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